Letter from Cath Sanderson
To MEPs lobbying for action in support of HEA members
28th November 2013
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    Dear Sir/Madam

Re: Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material (plant reproductive material law)/*COM/2013/0262 final - 2013/0137 (COD) */

I am writing as Chair of the Horticultural Exhibitors Association, an association that represents growers and members of the horticultural community in Great Britain that exhibit and sell their produce at flower shows and other events. The livelihood of some of these exhibitors is solely based on selling through the shows whilst others have small nurseries open to the public and also a offer mail order service to broaden their sales opportunities. Grave concerns and objections have been expressed to me by the members of this association to the proposed regulations of the marketing of plants as proposed above.

The majority of these exhibitors run family businesses with employees either within the family or others interested in horticulture employed on full time or part-time capacity. These are small and medium-sized nurseries growing a wide range of many of the more unusual, rare or harder to propagate plants, and also often conserving plants that would otherwise be lost, as they are not commercially viable to be grown in such small numbers in the much more commercial sector of British horticulture. If these regulations were to become law then many of these businesses would be forced to close or to continue to trade illegally as they would not have the finances available to afford the costs incurred to fulfil the necessity of writing acceptable descriptions and the filing of this information on the many thousands of plants grown and sold at present.

Many of the people working with plants are extremely hard working and doing it for love as the hours can be gruelling and the financial rewards are small compared to hours worked in other occupations. There is a tremendous wealth of knowledge and skills within this community which would be lost. Young people training in horticulture, at present and in the future, would have many less opportunities to gain further knowledge and experience if these businesses were no longer able to offer them much needed job opportunities.

The majority of the plants grown and sold by these smaller nurseries are listed in the RHS Plant Finder, an extremely valuable resource for any keen gardener. Many of these plants have been trialled by the RHS and have been awarded AGM status as plants that are extremely garden worthy. The same can not always be said for many plants that are already classified within the proposed legislation. These are usually newer plants with PBR status. Whilst it is imperative to continue to introduce new plants, for many reasons, this should not be done at the expense of many older, tried and tested garden-worthy varieties. Those people working within the trade will tell you how many of these new varieties stand the test of time. Only a small percentage of these newer varieties are as garden worthy as longer established plants, partly because with the advance of micro propagation they are not trialled over a long period of time as in the past. They are able to be introduced very quickly to the buying public because bulking up of plant material is now a speedy process. They may survive in areas where the weather is mild but certainly do not stand up to the rigors of the extreme weather conditions that we have been experiencing over the last few years and which the meteorologists tell us are likely to continue in the future.

As stated above many of these small businesses use Flower Shows organised by the RHS and other smaller independent organisations to exhibit and sell their plants. These events are likely to become unviable if this legislation is passed. People visiting these shows enjoy seeing the wide choice of plants that are not the run of the mill basic selection offered in their local garden centres. They will not visit the shows and pay their admission money in large enough numbers if there is not a wide range of exhibits to see and plants to buy. These people are the lifeblood of the hundreds of small nurseries exhibiting at these shows and plant fairs and other events held around the country. The demise of these shows and other outdoor events would also see the closure of many other small businesses that attend these events giving rise to a much higher level of unemployment.

Some of these exhibitors also visit other countries not only to sell their produce within the EEC and elsewhere but also to buy plants from other small nurseries. This legislation, if passed, therefore will have far reaching consequences in many perhaps at present unexpected countries and other businesses.

Recent research has shown that 'gardening' is conducive to good health. If there is to be any change in legislation it should be focussing on improving and simplifying any existing legislation, rather than bringing in more red tape. This just causes stress and anxiety for so many especially after over the last two or three years when many of the businesses concerned are already struggling to survive.

I hope that you will reflect carefully on all the points raised in this letter as many people's futures rest on the decision that you decide to make.

Yours faithfully

Cath Sanderson
HEA Chair

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